Appalachian Homestead Farm and Preserve (AAHP) is a nonprofit cultural organization that preserves the 19th-century Bennett family farmstead in Jackson County. The organization hosts day-long and multi-day summer camps in which children learn about mountain agriculture and livestock, traditional music and stories, and traditional cooking and preserves. It also hosts annual Save the Farms forums, in which landowners are educated about ways that they can preserve their farmland through conservation and land trusts. AAHP works in partnership with the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee River, Catch the Spirit of Appalachia, the Jackson County 4-H, and other organizations.
Near the head of Tilley and Pressley Creeks in Jackson County, an old chimney marks the spot where a settler named John Bennett built his cabin in 1835, and where he and his wife Cynthia raised twelve children. The farm that the Bennetts carved out of the mountainside stayed in the family for three generations, but by the middle of the twentieth century, their many heirs began to bow to pressure to sell the homeplace, valuable land with a beautiful view of the Balsam Range. In 1952, the last parcel was lost, sold for $300 and a cow.
This is the point at which the stories of many old mountain families’ homesteads end, with division into ever-smaller parcels of land in each generation, then sale, and eventual logging or development. The land on Tilley Creek, though, met a different fate. Vera Holland Guise, a great-great-great-granddaughter of John and Cynthia Bennett, determined to buy back her ancestors’ homeplace. In 2005 she was awarded a preservation grant, and bought back just over half of the original property, including the hollow where the cabin had stood and some of the surrounding farmland. Two years later, she and her husband purchased an adjoining tract which was about to be developed into condominiums.
The Bennett fields are now being worked again, planted in a great variety of organic and heirloom vegetables, herbs, and flowers, which are made available in the community through a Community Supported Agriculture initiative. Looking towards the future and “crafting a 21st-century vision for this 19th-century homestead,” Appalachian Homestead Farms hopes to expand its programming and create a new folk school, an institution for teaching young people the traditional skills and heritage of the North Carolina mountains.
AAHP offers youth summer camps, and heirloom crops for local sale.